10 Best TV Shows About TV

30 Rock (2006-2013)

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Credit: Ali Goldstein/NBC

Tina Fey’s post-Saturday Night Live solo outing lived for self-referential jokes about television and the business therein. Liz Lemon’s work as the harried showrunner of The Girlie Show with Tracy Jordan paid homage to Fey’s own time as head writer-turned-star of SNL. Insults to 30 Rock‘s parent network NBC came fast and furious, and a seasons-long story arc about fictional overlord Kabletown sprang from the writers room in what seemed like seconds after news broke that Comcast had begun an NBC buyout from GE in 2009. The coup de grace came during an extended joke about running NBC into the ground that played throughout the show’s final season. The show closed, NBC announced cataclysmic ratings for both new and returning shows, and viewers couldn’t help but wonder where fiction ended and truth began. —Erin Strecker

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The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66)

Proto-Liz Lemon Rob Petrie juggled his duties as head writer of the Sid Caesar-inspired Alan Brady Show and husband of ex-dancer Laura (Mary Tyler Moore)…

Credit: Everett Collection

Proto-Liz Lemon Rob Petrie juggled his duties as head writer of the Sid Caesar-inspired Alan Brady Show and husband of ex-dancer Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) in Carl Reiner’s seminal sitcom. Briskly-paced, insightful, and just as sharp today as it was in the ’60s, Dick Van Dyke isn’t just a classic — it’s the urtext for every meta-series that follows in its stead. (Naturally, the series ends with Reiner’s Brady planning to turn Rob’s memoirs into a TV show.) — Hillary Busis

Grosse Pointe (2000-01)

In the late ’90s and early ’00s, melodramatic teen soaps were The WB’s bread and butter — so the network definitely took a chance by…

Credit: Byron Cohen

In the late ’90s and early ’00s, melodramatic teen soaps were The WB’s bread and butter — so the network definitely took a chance by greenlighting this catty, clever backstage comedy about a fictional entry in the genre. Despite hilarious performances by Lindsay Sloane and Irene Molloy, as well as the stewardship of creator Darren Star — who based the series on one of his previous creations, Beverly Hills 90210 — audiences just didn’t get the Pointe; Grosse was axed after one season. — Hillary Busis

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Murphy Brown (1988-1998)

Centered on the eponymous hard-hitting, fortysomething, recovering-alcoholic journalist at the center of the news magazine FYI , the behind-the-scenes dramedy about covering politics in a…

Credit: Everett Collection

Centered on the eponymous hard-hitting, fortysomething, recovering-alcoholic journalist at the center of the news magazine FYI, the behind-the-scenes dramedy about covering politics in a youth-obsessed culture (hello, Corky Sherwood!) still resonates today. Murphy’s on-screen decisions even made real-life headlines when Vice President Dan Quayle questioned her decision to become a single mother. Fun fact: CBS originally wanted Heather Locklear for the title role, but creator Diane English fought for Candice Bergen, who ultimately won five Emmys for the role. — Mandi Bierly

The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)

The brainchild of co-creator and star Garry Shandling, Larry Sanders was a behind-the-scenes look at a late night show. Arriving in the midst of the…

Credit: Everett Collection

The brainchild of co-creator and star Garry Shandling, Larry Sanders was a behind-the-scenes look at a late night show. Arriving in the midst of the great splintering of the late-night audience (Shandling himself was briefly in the running to take over David Letterman’s Late Night slot), Sanders regularly featured real-life celebrities spoofing themselves. But the show is best remembered today for the brilliant regular characters, like Rip Torn’s charmingly bullish producer Artie and Jeffrey Tambor’s Hank ”Hey Now!” Kingsley. —Darren Franich

Episodes (2011-present)

This sly comedy centers about a pair of British showrunnners who score a hit in the U.K. with Lyman’s Boys , an intelligently tweedy comedy…

Credit: Jordin Althaus/Showtime

This sly comedy centers about a pair of British showrunnners who score a hit in the U.K. with Lyman’s Boys, an intelligently tweedy comedy about a beloved grammar school teacher. When they come to America to adapt their series, however, L.A. executives mutilate their show into Pucks, a low-grade high-schtick comedy starring Matt LeBlanc as a sex-crazed hockey coach. The joke is that LeBlanc, who plays himself, is supposed to be shorthand for mediocre comedy, but the irony is that the Showtime series itself is top-shelf. —Ray Rahman

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77)

Creator James L. Brooks drew on his own background as a broadcast news writer for this classic about perky single gal Mary Richards, who came…

Credit: Everett Collection

Creator James L. Brooks drew on his own background as a broadcast news writer for this classic about perky single gal Mary Richards, who came to Minneapolis’s WJM TV station seeking a secretarial position and ended up an associate news producer instead. Between grumpy producer Lou Grant, quippy head writer Murray Slaughter, and narcissistic anchor Ted Baxter, our heroine always had her hands full — but, thanks to her determination and spunk (we love spunk), Mary really did ”make it after all.” — Hillary Busis

The Hour (2011-2012)

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With a Mad Men-meets-The Newsroom vibe, this smart newsroom drama positioned late-’50s era BBC as a mythical place where hardhitting journalists were uncovering the facts and taking up with each left and right. Alas, a cancellation announcement after only one season landed the series in the ”Gone too soon” category in all too fine company. —Laura Hertzfeld

The Comeback (2005)

Lisa Kudrow’s short-lived HBO comedy isn’t ”about” TV in the way that a lot of TV is ”about” itself. Whole scenes revolve around Kudrow’s sitcom…

Credit: Bruce Birmelin/The Sundance Channel

Lisa Kudrow’s short-lived HBO comedy isn’t ”about” TV in the way that a lot of TV is ”about” itself. Whole scenes revolve around Kudrow’s sitcom actress Valerie Cherish trying to nail a joke in front of an audience and getting wound up between takes. That it’s also funny and kind of brutal says something about the show’s twist on the typical tricks — we still want to eat the sausage (or the cupcake, as it were) after seeing how it’s made. —Adam Carlson

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Pretty Much Everything by Aaron Sorkin (1998-present)

After a successful career as a playwright and a screenwriter, the Cult of Sorkin officially began with 1998’s Sports Night (above), a charming show about…

Credit: ABC

After a successful career as a playwright and a screenwriter, the Cult of Sorkin officially began with 1998’s Sports Night (above), a charming show about how sports journalism is the most important thing in America, basically. After creating his biggest hit, The West Wing * in 1999, Sorkin created the somewhat-less-charming Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in 2006, a show about how Saturday Night Live is the most important thing in America, basically. Sorkin returned to familiar territory with 2012’s not-at-all-charming The Newsroom, a show about how CNN is the most important thing in America, or it would be if Aaron Sorkin ran it. —Darren Franich

*Arguably also a behind-the-scenes series, insofar as politics is basically the longest-running reality show in America.

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